Thursday, November 5, 2009


The delusion that we have harboured, at least since we convinced ourselves that we no longer believed in God, that our truth, scientific or not, can in some sense be final and exclusive of all alternatives, has to go. The opposite of ‘absolute’ is ‘relative’. If our truth is relative, what is it relative to? It can be relative to competing truths, but it can fundamentally only be relative to us, to our point of view, to our capacities, to the extent of our experience or to the kind of language we use. But why should that bother us? It means we are not gods; and it means that we cannot be sure that we are going to obtain godlike omniscience with our truth. But why should that bother us? The old sophist Protagoras was the first to be associated with the doctrine that ‘man is the measure of all things’, that is to say that truth is relative to each human individual. Now this is potentially a nonsensical doctrine because it suggests that consensus is impossible, while we all know that it is not. Nevertheless, it remains the case that we all occupy a unique point of view and our brains present us with a unique picture of the world.

Nevertheless, we all live in the world. We do not know the nature of that world, but by virtue of having evolved in it as a species, we necessarily make contact with it as a group. If we didn’t we wouldn’t have survived for very long. Why is it not sufficient for us to be satisfied with a conception of truth that makes it relative to our needs and goes no further? The reason, we have maintained, is bound up with the sense of self and more particularly with the ego: we have to be in control; and if our knowledge is not absolute – at least potentially – then we lose some of the sense of control that we desire. Our power-seeking, narcissistic ego seems to be motivated to search only for ‘absolute’ truth because only that flatters its self-love. Ignorance is a loss of control and if our knowledge only goes so far, then we are ignorant about the extent of our ignorance and may be deluding ourselves entirely, for that reason, about our knowledge. This thought is unsettling to us and we will do our damnedest to rid ourselves of it. Nevertheless, it seems that the absolute, godlike truth that we have desired for thousands of years and that we have desired with almost fanatical intensity in the last couple of hundred is very bad for us. It is damaging and futile because the principal means at our disposal of acquiring knowledge – the thing-ideology and mathematical logic – only give us access to a narrow band of reality and increasingly narrower bands of that narrow band. Our so-called ‘scientific method’ constitutes a set of very restricting blinkers that make us act in increasingly short-sighted and potentially disastrous ways. The problem is quite simply this: we are searching for a truth about reality that we could never obtain by means of methods that badly distort our ability to understand. But our belief in those methods and our desire to be right are so intense that we continue despite every set-back.

We are manically scrabbling around for ever more detailed reductive ‘truth’ and neglecting the kind of knowledge that we really need as humans. We are amassing ever more facts as our understanding of values diminishes. We are vastly inflating our understanding of the detailed nature of ‘things’ and neglecting utterly the understanding of our complex personalities that allow us to live in the world. Through our obsession with objects, we reify everything, ourselves and our fellows included; we depersonalise ourselves, dehumanise ourselves and deprive ourselves of the understanding of wholes that is required by our personalities and vital to our mental health. Reductive ‘truth’ becomes falsehood when applied to things that have to be treated as wholes possessing emergent creative properties that are not present at lower levels of analysis.

Perhaps what we need is an ultimate holistic truth. The language of wholes requires us to use a vocabulary that is not that of things, so its truth cannot be ‘thing’-truth. We have to use a vocabulary that includes not only ‘thoughts’, ‘minds’, ‘intentions’, but also ‘purposes’, ‘meanings’ and the like, for they are an integral part of any world we can understand. Our understanding is essentially narrative. But our vocabulary also has to include words that as yet we do not have or that are sneered at because they are not thing-words. Thing-words exclude precisely what is of most value to us and we have come to the conclusion that since what is of most value to us cannot be expressed in thing-words, what is of most value to us has no sense nor meaning and therefore, paradoxically, no value. This is a remarkable state of affairs and a remarkably dangerous one. The very essence of our being is under attack by thing-words, by thing-truth, by the obsession with the absolute truth of the thing-ideology – and for no good reason except our misguided sense of precision. The thing-obsession exists only because we have chosen to limit reality to what we can perceive with the senses, or imagine ourselves as perceiving with the senses (things such as atoms and sub-atomic particles), and express in the language of three-dimensional objects. We have to understand this, understand that it is a problem of language, a problem of midworld, and not in any sense a problem of the world as such. It is a problem we have created because of our ego-driven obsession with the need to control a realm of things by means of propositions.

So what is the solution? The solution seems to be that we have to give up exclusive reliance on the thing-language, the thing-logic, the thing-obsessed method, the thing-truth by which we reify the world and ourselves. We have to develop a language of wholes. If we do not do this, then our language is not generative of truth because it is not true to our nature. It destroys us. We are not things and the language of things when applied reductively to us and to the exclusion of the wholes that we require produces the opposite of truth.

Truth, insofar as it is expressible and sharable in language, i.e. ‘objective’, is our truth, it is the truth we need. It has this irreducibly subjective dimension to it. We cannot have some neutral, ‘completely objective’, absolute, ‘final’ truth about the world that pretends to take no account of who and what we are. Such a truth would be a meaningless collection of data. The thing-ideology is no more than our cognitive infirmity writ large. How then could we expect it to yield the kind of magnificent, monolithic, eternal truth we seek? It is time that we evolved a method of establishing our truth about the world as a whole in non-reductive terms. Why is this? The reason for this is that we are constitutionally unable to live in a world that we do not understand as a meaningful whole, that does not have sense and meaning for us as a totality, that has no purpose that we can identify. A world of mobile bits and pieces has no meaning for us.

We have to be able, rationally to form a picture of the world as a whole that strikes us as valuable, redolent of meaning and inclusive of us and our personalities. The truth that does this will be rather different from the truth we have imagined ourselves as seeking for so long a time. It will not be a truth based upon the vainglorious notion of ‘proof’ – which is no more than the desire to inflict a kind of intellectual violence – but rather on the notion of creative ‘insight’. This, of course, requires a lot of good will, a lot of willingness to make compromise and a great dollop of humility. It can not be obtained with the ego’s tetchy determination to thrust through its individual point of view at all cost. It requires great flexibility of mind, a great deal of imagination and a huge ability to see the sense in all of those systems of value that have given meaning and purpose to human life throughout the ages. In short, this new kind of truth requires a lot of wisdom, the wisdom of poets, artists, seers, prophets and visionaries. Such wisdom has, of course been around for a long time; but for us, here and now, it has to be guaranteed by its longevity, by its success in illuminating individual lives throughout the ages and is to be distinguished from incoherent rambling and raving. It has to be consistent with our profoundest convictions concerning science and morality.

The way this truth will be fostered will be by a change in the paradigm that rules the culture of the west. This change will involve a shift of view within precise science, away from exclusive devotion to analysis and reduction, towards a preparedness to consider the entire universe as a co-ordinated, creative whole, an intelligent whole. This view will require us to see that from the basic filaments of matter, to (and perhaps beyond) the level of the most complicate object known to us – the brain – the world functions as an information-driven and thus intelligent system, in which all parts are intimately connected to all other parts.

It is time we enunciated this basic truth: the whole universe gave rise to us and gave us the characteristics we possess, including our desire for truth. Thus there must be some sense in which every aspect of our nature – including our intelligence – is essentially related to this whole, just as the matter of our brain is intimately related to the whole of matter. That relatedness of our personality is the essence of the truth we need; and it is not illuminated by analysis alone: it needs a synthetic narrative that includes those aspects of our nature that make us human. It is a logical fallacy to deduce properties of wholes from parts and properties of parts from wholes, sure, but we are not practising deduction here: we are simply asserting an intuitive understanding that generated the old notion of the microcosm mirroring the macrocosm and that threw up the idea of self-similarity in complexity-theory. We are fundamentally related to the universe and its history; so it is unlikely that our intelligent personality is an incomprehensible and freakish anomaly any more than our materiality is freakish or anomalous. It is far more likely that intelligence is a property of reality as such and it is that that connects our minds and those of other beings to the world. Why, after all, should our relatedness to the world be material alone?

The kind of connectedness within reality that is involved here is a connection that the word ‘intimate’ does not get across with sufficient force. It is a connection that implies complete interdependence of all parts, such that the dynamics of the part are inseparable from the dynamics of the whole. The part is unfolded in the whole and the whole is enfolded in the part. The sub-atomic particle enfolds the entire universe (the hologram could provide an analogy here) and unfolds its own nature only in the context of the whole universe. Since this is true of sub-atomic particles, it is true to a much more intense degree of brains and of those entities that use brains for their self-expression, minds. The notion that the mind is somehow generated by the brain, analogously with the hum of an electric motor, as some have supposed, is untenable. The connection ‘brain-plus-the-rest-of reality’ may indeed constitute the mind; but the object-besotted, counter-intuitive dogma that decrees that ‘this 3D object that we can handle and dissect just is the mind’ can now be ditched.

Truth concerning connectedness can to a certain extent be obtained by analytical methods, for it is the exploration of matter by these methods that has convinced physicists of the interdependence of all the ‘things’ in the world. But the analytical methods have to be supplemented by synthetic methods in which the flexible, non-rigid language of wholes presents humanity with a benign picture of the universal milieu it inhabits. These synthetic methods will have to make use of the entire resources of imaginative literature and spiritual tradition of the entire planet insofar as this literature and this tradition has earned its keep by its longevity and potential for development. A careful and sympathetic study of the vocabulary of this ancient language will reveal insights about the symbiosis of man and world that arises from our long evolutionary past and that cannot be neglected. If we neglect it, it will be on account of the thing-dogma and nothing else. The mind, if left to itself regulates itself. It is only when dogma infects it that the mind begins to produce the aberrations that we have seen in recent history. Throughout the history of the human race, humans have sought a spiritual sense to life that was not obvious from a study of the items of their environment revealed by the senses. We have to re-discover this spiritual connectedness and re-discover the truth of wholes in order to supplement the one-sided language of parts. If we do not do this, we will continue to know more and more about less and less as far as our humanity is concerned. We will continue to pile up ‘facts’ about ‘things’ and neglect utterly the understanding of ourselves that is vital to our survival. It is the dogmatic logic of the thing-ideology that has led us to devastate our planet and this can only be reversed by an understanding of the intimate connection between our mind and our world. It does not stand over against us as a brute and insensate lump of stuff: it is us and we are it. These pronouns hide too much.

The holistic truth we need is as much an indispensable component of our cognitive acquisition as our precise science. The fact that it arises from creative insight and not by reductive logic should not put us off. The point of contact between reductive science and holistic insight is in the concept of ‘pattern’. Much of our search for truth arises from the urge to categorise the items of our experience. But the urge to categorise arises in a more fundamental ability which we share with every living system (and perhaps with non-living systems): it is the fundamental ability of pattern-recognition. Pattern recognition is not under our control. It is one of those things that simply happen to us within the pattern-rich cosmos. Pattern-recognition is not the result of the use of language, because animals without language exhibit it; language is rather the result of it. Language allows pattern recognition to take off and effect quantum-leaps in mental functioning, where layer upon layer of pattern-recognition within pattern-recognition is added to the original ability. The origin of self-consciousness is in this multi-dimensional reflectivity of midworld.

Yet truth is a matter not only of pattern-recognition, but also of pattern-generation. The extent to which we can establish a correspondence between the patterns we detect in our experience and the patterns we generate in the manipulation of the formalism (the language) that structures our minds constitutes our ‘truth’. Needless to say, any ability to decide if or when these patterns are definitive eludes us because we lack the ability to approach nature except by the linguistic patterns that we develop. We have no way of knowing to what extent these patterns actually correspond to what is ‘there’. Contact is obviously made with reality our grasp of certain patterns allows us to manipulate natural systems. The correspondence theory of truth is of value for technology and other mechanical modelling, but for our mental well-being, we need another sort of truth: moral truth. A fundamental aspect of such moral truth is this: we ourselves are part of the universal pattern-generation; we ourselves are aspects of the perpetual meaningful innovation of nature. If our insight suggests to us that we are in the process of being created by a universal Creator, then maybe that is the ultimate pattern we need.

Our patterns are not mere banal repetitions; why then should we suppose that those of nature are? The extent of the ultimate ‘correspondence’ of our truth will elude us for ever, since the patterns we generate in our language are reflective of but not reproductive of reality. Moreover, in order to judge the ‘exactness’ of such a correspondence we would have to view nature from a vantage above and beyond the patterns we perceive and generate. In our objective truth, this is impossible. In our moral truth, however, we need to see this ability as indeed in a sense being ours, to the extent that we find existing truth inadequate and have hunches concerning a more capacious truth yet to be discovered. We have to live as if we understood the world and the direction it is taking; and in our ‘objective’ knowledge, we do not. It is a perpetual surprise. In our moral ‘knowledge’ we feel we understand the way the world ‘should’ be; and it is in that type of creative hunch that we can be said to understand the future.

The vantage-point beyond and above our formalisms permits us to expand and improve those formalisms, it does not permit us to perceive the full extent of their power. We can discover nature by expanding our formalisms and we have no guarantee, in so doing, of our approaching absolute ‘truth’. In all probability we are doing no more than extending prosthetically our human ability to perceive. But to equate human perception with access to all that is, remains folly. Nevertheless, our pattern-recognising intellect must be trusted, for we have ultimately no other source of authority at all. Our pattern-recognising and pattern-generating intelligence is the intimate link between mind and world, between self and non-self and this relation is our ultimate truth.

So if we do give up the notion of absolute truth and of one day achieving the absolute correspondence between our models and reality, what is the significance of pattern-recognition for our humanity, what is the moral truth of pattern-recognition? The answer to this must again be found in the fundamental guarantor of our ability to espy both holistic patterns and reductive patterns: the essential relatedness of mind and world. Mind and world are fundamentally one. The world creates itself and in creating itself, creates us. Being created and creating are for us the same thing. Our creativity is part of the creativity of nature and reflective of the self-similarity of the world at all levels.

We have to take seriously our incorrigible impulse to espy purpose and meaning, intelligence and creative innovation, where the thing-ideology says we must see only banal, repetitive things. We have to take seriously the archetypal human emotions that drive us to think in certain ways. The relatedness of our minds and their world is not something we can choose. The ego cannot decide to believe only what flatters it. The monopoly on truth supposedly held by reductive science is an illusion bolstered and reinforced by the gizmos of technological progress. It is an ideology and no-one has the right to dictate what constitutes the ‘truth’ of a proposition on the basis of an ideology. If our pattern-recognising intellect espies patterns that present the mind with intimations of an intelligence in nature of which our own is an aspect, then it is simply illegitimate to denounce such perceptions of pattern on the basis of a belief that only things are real. We are not at liberty to suppress the archetypal thought-patterns of the human species. They have to become the basis of a new type of faith.

We need a truth that is multi-facetted and human. We have a surfeit of truth about ‘matter’ and ‘proof’ about objects. More and more of this kind of truth will not get us the understanding that we need to live in the world in harmony with the environment and with each other. The old idea of Gallileo that we could obtain knowledge of the ultimate laws of all reality is now defunct. We have to change our mindset with regard to truth and begin to entertain assumptions about those patterns that reveal to us wholes, whole people, whole societies, whole worlds, the whole universe, that we have not allowed ourselves to entertain because of our monomaniacal, ego-impelled obsession with the control of the universe of things. We could profitably adopt as an assumption the positing of the intelligently co-ordinated nature of the universe as a whole. Of course some people are going to throw up their hands in disgust and despair with a cry of “there we are, this is just another appeal in favour of belief in God,” and with that consign the entire notion of truth about wholes to the dustbin. But such people should examine their own reasons for reacting thus. We may not need the word ‘God’ and indeed it is a word so loaded with silly association that it may not be of very great use. But the word ‘intelligence’ as a property of the whole universe is altogether more neutral. There is no use at all in pleading the cause of any particular religion, but we could at least have the intellectual honesty to see whether some of their insights might not be valuable. We should be honest enough to admit that our obsession with parts is what blinds us to the whole. This is the thesis of the biologist Stuart Kauffman’s ground-breaking books At Home in the Universe and Rediscovering the Sacred.

If the universe is a meaningless mechanism, then we may do well to shrink into some comforting shell of our own making. If, on the other hand, the whole universe is intelligently co-ordinated, then that is surely a matter of extreme importance to us. We can never ‘prove’ this insight, because proof is about applying 3D categories, local truths, in language. But indulging in a sort of knee-jerk denial on the basis of the thing-ideology is of no help whatever. Rather than ruling the possibility of universal intelligence out of court on the basis of the thing-dogma, we should admit that we tend to see the world as intelligently co-ordinated and ask ourselves what are the benefits of seeing the world according to this fundamental tendency of our minds? They are many; but surely the most essential is the morally vital link they create between us and our environment. There is a literal world of difference between, on the one hand, seeing the universe as a collection of meaningless objects and oneself as one of them, albeit endowed with an anomalous intelligence and, on the other hand, seeing oneself as integrated by virtue of one’s intelligence into the intelligent process of the whole of reality. In the one view, we are shut out of a reality that is alien to us; in the other we belong and are catered for within reality, even though the universal intelligence – not being human – may not ultimately be comprehensible by us. The moral difference could not be greater. As far as truth is concerned, exploring the nature of this belonging by the methods at our disposal would be truth enough. If our intelligence has been generated by a more capacious, universal intelligence, then to trust the latter is rational in the extreme. It may well be that as we investigate it, more methods of approach will be developed and our consciousness enhanced.

But we should also think thus: the thing ideology is only a view of the world based upon a set of assumptions and these assumptions, being exclusive rather than inclusive, are restrictions upon our minds rather than liberations. Why should we cling obsessively to 3D truth as the only possible form of truth? Why should we cling to a restricting dogma that is damaging us because it is reifying us, when we could liberate our intellect and our imagination by the adoption of an assumption that would open up an infinity of dimensions to reality that we have up to this point only feebly imagined? If we entertain the possibility that the entire universe is an intelligently co-ordinated totality, we do not put ourselves in thrall to the old gods, who as Nietzsche pointed out, have died; we rather liberate ourselves absolutely. We liberate ourselves absolutely because as a mere aspect of universal intelligence our own intelligence is clearly limited and the discovery of the nature of universal intelligence is infinitely fascinating to it. The ever-renewed discovery of the connection between the two is perhaps, fundamentally, what we mean by our concept ‘truth’. And it may turn out that we are able to thrive on a perpetual rediscovery of this truth.

The question is this: would the entertainment of such an assumption be any more than a kind of humming a jolly tune in the cold, inhospitable universe of matter in order to cheer ourselves up? Would the adoption of the assumption be any more than pie in the sky? Would it be any more than comforting fantasy? Would it be any more well-founded than infantile craving for parental images? It is far from obvious, given many developments in physics, that the answer to these questions is ‘no’. These developments include the Anthropic Principle, the Uncertainty Principle, Quantum indeterminacy, the Implicate Order and many other insights in precise science that seem to cry out for a new discovery of the totality of the world in non-analytic, non-reductive, non-reifying terms.

Truth is not a set of absolute and final descriptive declarations concerning a collection of things thought to represent the ultimate ‘state’; though a set of provisional propositions may be part of truth. Truth has also to be a set of insights that provide us with what we need in order to live with each other and with our world. Thus our truth has to be both technological know-how and vision of coherent totality. We can no longer sustain our world without the first, but we cannot live without the second either. It is probably only by the second that we can humanise the first and render it benign. We have the first in abundance; the second is rudimentary. We have only a short span of time before the exponential development of our technological expertise allied to our moral ignorance will lead us to complete our sawing through the branch upon which we are sitting and plunge us into disaster. If that were to happen, it could well be the judgment upon our feeble understanding of the intelligent world. It could be the enactment of our self-inflicted death-sentence.

We have to re-assess our holistic view of the world as a matter of great urgency and ask ourselves whether our craving for control is not destroying us, whether we would not do well to abandon the means of our control – the thing-ideology – and take up a stance that integrates our intelligence into the universe such that ours is dependent and precisely not in control. Our truth is dependent upon a source of creative insight we do not control, but by which we are controlled. Learning to trust this source of our creativity may integrate us into creation and convince us that our creativity is the same as our being created. In the end, truth has to be our awareness and understanding of our role within the universal process of creation. This would of course in a sense be the rediscovery of something we had lost and imagined we were better off without; but it would be a rediscovery of ancient insight on a higher level of consciousness and would combine, as in a myth, science, religion, art, morality and all the other accomplishments of the race.

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